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Fashion matters: fashion, art and society

A ten-part lecture series with Dr Peter McNeil

Today few individuals would deny the powerful role of fashion in everyday life. The media presents us with an array of images from the real to the fantastic. Large multinational corporations and powerful fashion houses shape the language of fashion, influence public opinion and build global production and distribution structures. Fashion is a specific vision of change that is shaped by cultural practices, economic systems and many players, not just designers. Fashion is also heavily contested, opposed and criticised. It retains in the public mind strong connections with vanity, frivolity, waste and folly. It can be conveniently blamed for everything from psychological illness to nastiness on reality television.

This course opens up the world of fashion across cultures and societies. Understand better the intimate embrace of art and fashion. Learn how to read clothes from the past. Study images of fine fashion jewels and accessories. Access rare and beautiful items of fashion, including many from private collections. Learn about the fashion worlds of men and women alike, from the middle ages to today. Find your own identities through fashion.

Dr Peter McNeil is Professor of Design History at University of Technology Sydney and Foundation Professor of Fashion Studies at Stockholm University, Sweden. He has published nine works on fashion including the bestselling Shoes, also translated into Italian (with G Riello 2006; 2011) and his current book projects include the ‘long’ history of luxury, supported by the UK Leverhulme Trust, fashion writing and criticism from the 17th century to the present day, and fashion journalism. In 2012 he wraps up his three-year role within a €1,000,000-funded project Fashioning the early modern: innovation and creativity in Europe 1500-1800. He is a regular fashion reviewer and co-curator, currently working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a major touring exhibition.

Various Fridays 10.30am and Saturdays 11am in 2013
See listing for dates

Full subscription:
$400 non-member
$290 member

Single lecture:
$45 non-member
$35 member
$20 student

Bookings and enquiries: 02 9225 1878


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Link above is for subscription booking

Ticket price includes lecture entry, lecture notes, coffee during intermissions and a glass of wine after each session.

Lectures and lecturer subject to change.

Three full working days (Mon–Fri) notice is required to qualify for a refund. All refunds attract an administration charge of 25% of the ticket price(s) with a minimum charge of $5. With subscription tickets there are no refunds for single sessions unless a session is cancelled. No transfers between sessions. Not negotiable.

Duration 2 hours
Location: Domain Theatre

Proudly sponsored by
Arab Bank Australia

Fashion and art

Fashion has been both subject and object for the practice of art and, in the 19th and 20th centuries, became a type of popular aesthetics. For centuries artists engaged with and influenced fashion, many designing the very stuff of its support – cloth. Learn how art forms as different as history painting, sculpture, portrait painting, printmaking and the commercial arts, ephemera and photography of our own era have depicted, created and promoted fashions. Gain a firm sense of fashion history from the middle ages to our time.



Friday 6 September 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 7 September 2013 11am – 1pm

Fashion and textiles: Eden to Edo

Much world fashion is bound up with botanical knowledge. The flower has been central to fashion’s forms and its supports – textiles – in nearly all cultures. Subject to artful cultivation since ancient times, redolent of passion and hope in the middle ages, cross-cultural transportation and sale in the Renaissance, classification and hybridisation in the Enlightenment, sentiment and eroticism in the 19th century, fantasy, femininity and domesticity in the 20th century, the flower is more than a simple motif. Learn how references to floriate forms within fashionable dress contributed to the creation of patterns of thought, status, gender and nation.



Friday 13 September 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 14 September 2013 11am – 1pm

High-heel heaven

Shoes convey a wide range of meanings associated with fashion, style, personality, sexuality, class and gender. New studies have given us awareness of the personal, social and sexual connotations attributed to footwear and created by footwear. Different shapes and colours for men’s and women’s shoes today revolve primarily around the construction of gender difference. Many of these gendered distinctions developed in the so-called ‘long 18th century’. Why do men and women’s shoes look so very different today? Learn about shoes, mobility and history, from Renaissance platform chopines to Sex and the city ‘limousine’ shoes.



Friday 20 September 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 21 September 2013 11am – 1pm

Revolutionary dress

This week explores the startling and extreme men’s and women’s fashions immediately following the tumult of the French Revolution, from the servant to the courtier; from the ‘Incredible ones’, the Incroyable and Merveilleuse, to the Revolutionary street gangs, the jeunesse dorée (gilded youth), and the muscadins, who wore aspects of court dress as an affront to the authorities and the revolutionaries. Follow English and French fashion as worn by the street gangs of 18th-century Paris.



Friday 27 September 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 28 September 2013 11am – 1pm

Magic fashion

In the early part of the 20th century, Victorian taste was very ‘out of fashion’. In the 1930s a strong female designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, rediscovered the period and cast it in her own light. Learn about the creative circles of fashion and design in inter-war Paris, understand the ‘chic of poverty’ promoted by couturier Coco Chanel and interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, track the stylish South Americans, and follow the collaborative inter-war aesthetic project of fashion, fantasy and surrealism.



Friday 11 October 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 12 October 2013 11am – 1pm

Café society

Glamour means making yourself available to be looked at, and fashion was central to that role. We examine the style icons and the great patrons of luxury of the inter-war years and the early 1950s: Diana Vreeland, Elsie de Wolfe, Millicent Rogers, Pauline de Rothschild, Mona Bismark, the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Fellowes and Grace Kelly. Understand the role of couture fashion and jewels in shaping their media profiles.



Friday 18 October 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 19 October 2013 11am – 1pm

Dress soft: from the Prince of Wales to the preppy look

Why do men wear striped ties? What is the ‘windsor knot’? Who would get their jacket and trousers made in different continents? In our own era when fashions are set on the catwalk, in clubs and on the streets, it is difficult to imagine an era when a royal male set trans-Atlantic fashions. Yet that was precisely the role of the Duke of Windsor, already one of the most famous men in the world as Prince Edward of York, later Prince of Wales, before he abdicated after a short reign as King Edward VIII in 1936. Take a walk inside his wardrobe and fashion world.



Friday 25 October 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 26 October 2013 11am – 1pm

Fashion style and gay challenge

Many gay men challenged society through their style and dress before the liberation politics of the 1970s. We examine gay fashion icons whose heyday was in the 1930s and 1940s, with an afterlife in the 1950s and 1960s that was rather nostalgic concerning their gilded youth. They include the dilettantes Bunny Rogers and Stephen Tennant, the photographer Cecil Beaton and royal dress-designer Norman Hartnell. How did such men glamourise royal families via fashion? Why did extreme style become mainstream?



Friday 8 November 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 9 November 2013 11am – 1pm

Dressed to kill: fashion and the New Look

Learn about fashion in England, France, Australia and the USA during World War II. Fashion was debated in Parliament. Shortages were managed creatively. Why did men become concerned? What did the English queen wear in her bomb shelter? How did women and designers annoy the Germans during the occupation of Paris using their fashions? The controversy surrounding Christian Dior’s New Look (1947) is also examined.



Friday 15 November 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 23 November 2013 11am – 1pm

1980s fashion: from the street to the museum

This lecture considers the role of historicism and the reworking of ‘classics’ or fashion types as a means to generate new meanings for fashion. Vivienne Westwood is the focus, a designer whose process is informed by surviving artefacts, representations of dress and allusion to history, zeitgeist and socio-cultural change. The clothes that emerge are never copies but fantasies of fashion moments that are mythical and romantic. The unity of pre-war dressing is replaced by the fragmentation of the body. The shoes no longer have to match the bag.



Friday 22 November 2013 10:30am – 12:30pm


Saturday 30 November 2013 11am – 1pm